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The Second Assistant

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Sonny had always been an optimist. And he also had a lot of dreams. When he graduated at the top of his journalism class, he thought the world was his. He had great ideas, an unending drive, and an overwhelming passion to do what was right. As every other journalist, Sonny also had a little bit of a hero’s complex.

But he soon realized that the road to making his dreams come true was hard to walk on.

Sonny had a great portfolio and good pitches, he had made some exemplary volunteer work, but getting a call back in New York seemed impossible. Well, for Sonny at least. His girlfriend Arielle had gotten a position at the New York Globe almost fresh out of school, and Sonny was happy for her, but it made him feel inadequate.

So when he got a call back from Elias-Clarke Publications, he prayed a little harder. He really needed this break.

Sure, he had never read the magazine he was actually interviewing for, but he knew it was very well respected in the fashion industry and, if he got the job there, Sonny knew a lot of doors would open up for him. The opportunities for networking were endless, not to mention the traveling. So what if the job was as an assistant and not a reporter? If he worked hard, he’d get the recognition he deserved.

Sonny counted down the days up to the interview and, when the morning came, he had a good breakfast, and selected an outfit that wasn’t stained for a change. He didn’t want to think about it too much, he wasn’t into fashion anyway, so there was no point in trying to be someone he was not just for an interview. They’d hire him if they liked him, not his clothes, right?

“Good luck on your assistant job interview, babe,” Arielle teased as she kissed him on the cheek before leaving.

“Yeah, thanks,” he sighed and dropped the piece of toast he was eating back on his plate.

While trying to find some confidence within himself, Sonny grabbed his briefcase that held all the news articles he had worked on, checked that everything was in its place and made his way out of the apartment with some time to spare. His father always told him that being late was unbecoming.

He wasn’t sure what to expect from Runway. He knew the stereotypes about people in fashion, but it was still journalism. Would they be like his folks from his college newspaper, but better dressed? Would they be as hardworking as his coworkers at the Staten Island Journal? He hoped so. Because even though it was a secretary job, Sonny would love to make friends with the reporters and editors.  

When he got to the building, he was intimidated by how luxurious it all was. The lobby looked like something out of a high budget movie, with big, tall chandeliers, marble floor and wood paneling. There were so many security guards, Sonny felt like he was about to be kick out at any moment considering he clearly didn’t fit in.

They had his name on a list, though. They said he was cleared to go up to the Runway floor, so he did. But everything got so much worse when the elevator doors opened.

He could see beautiful women and men going around looking like they stepped right out of a magazine, their outfits on point and their hairs styled to perfection, much like he expected. But they all looked like they were walking on clouds, their chins ups, a blazé expression on their faces. Nobody seemed to pay Sonny any mind, so he approached the reception desk with tentative steps.

“Hi,” he greeted the lady behind the desk. “My name is Dominick Carisi, Jr. I’m here for the assistant interview. I believe Carmen is expecting me.”

The woman didn’t look at him once, but she picked up the phone and called Carmen anyway. “She’ll be with you in a minute,” she said after disconnecting the call.

The more he waited, the more Sonny felt out of place. He could feel his cheeks heating up by the second, and at the end of the day he was sure he’d have a permanent tomato look on his face.

But he gripped his briefcase tighter, smoothed the lines on his sweater, straightened his collar and stood tall. This was a great chance for him to experience something different, and Sonny could dial up the charm at any time if needed.

“Dominick?,” a voice called. Sonny turned to be greeted by a beautiful, tall, lean woman. She was dressed impeccably, and Sonny could pinpoint the exact moment she took in what he was wearing himself. Her smiled dropped instantly, and she brought a hand to her hip, looking impatient. “Either HR has a sense of humor, or you really don’t want this job.”

“What?,” he swallowed dryly.

She sighed dramatically. “Follow me.”

After hesitating for half a second, he did.

“I’m Carmen, Rafael Barba’s first assistant,” she said as she guided him through the newsroom. Sonny felt his heart flutter in his chest. He hadn’t been in one in so long. “So the position as his second assistant is open. Are you sure you’re up for the job?”

“I may not look it,” he joked, but he only got a side-eye as a response. “But I really am interested in the position. Runway is such a big deal, and I’d love to learn a little more about fashion.”

“A little more?,” Carmen snorted.

“Carmen!,” someone shouted from the end of the room. “He’s coming!”

“What?,” she squealed, grabbed Sonny’s arm and dragged him further down the hall. “Shit, shit, shit. He’s early.”

“Who?,” Sonny asked as they walked through glass doors and entered what seemed to be the main office. There were two long desks in either side of the room, just outside the double doors that led to a huge room. Probably the editor in chief’s office.

“Stay put,” Carmen told him as she ran into the big room.

Looking through the glass doors, he could see other people running around. Some of them on the phone, others carrying piles of paper, others with huge stacks of clothing. It looked incredibly hectic and, honestly, the only times he saw a newsroom like that was when something really important happened. Historically speaking.

“Don’t say anything, pretend like you’re not even here,” Carmen instructed as she ran out of the bigger room back to what Sonny assumed was her desk. “I hope he doesn’t see you, but I doubt anyone could ignore… that.”

“Uh, rude,” Sonny frowned. “But who are you talking about?”

Carmen looked at him with a horrified expression but, before she could reply, the doors opened and in walked the most handsome, most dapper, most well dressed man Sonny had ever seen. He was wearing a navy three piece suit, vest and all, and a bright lavender tie with a matching pocket square. His eyes were a beautiful shade of green and, when he looked at Sonny, he thought he was going to die under the scorching gaze.

The man kept a neutral expression as he looked him up and down, but then proceeded to drop his briefcase and coat on Carmen’s desk. “Why is it so difficult for people to confirm their appointments?”

“Rafael, I’m so sorry, I did. I called her three times just to -.”

“Tales of people’s incompetence do not interest me,” he cut in. Sonny’s jaw dropped. “Tell Simone I won’t approve of that girl she sent for the Brazilian layout. Then ask her if she fell and hit her head because the girl was the exact opposite of what I told her I needed. RSVP yes to the Tom Ford party. I want the driver to drop me off at 9:30 and pick me up a 9:45 sharp. Call Natalie and tell her no for the 40th time. Then I need you to call my mother and reschedule our dinner. Tell her she can choose where and when, but make sure the when is not on the weekend. And I need to see everything Olivia has pulled for Beyoncé’s second cover try before she gets pregnant again. What is that?,” Rafael asked, tilting his head at Sonny.

Sonny blinked rapidly at Rafael’s quick demands.

“Oh, he’s nobody,” Carmen waved a hand. “HR sent him for the job interview, but I think it was a mistake, so I’ll get rid of him.”

Sonny wanted to protest. He was standing right there , and when HR called him, they didn’t tell him he was coming to be insulted left and right.

“Well, the last two girls they sent were a complete disaster so I’ll interview this one myself,” he sighed, extremely annoyed, then looked at Sonny. “Follow me.”

Sonny swallowed hard and looked at Carmen with a pleading expression, but she only shooed him into the office. Sonny’s hands were shaking, so he tightened his grip around the handle of his briefcase and walked in.

The office was a big open space with floor to ceiling windows that gave away the beautiful Manhattan skyline. The decoration was very minimalistic and Sonny was surprised to see how neat it was. His last editor’s office was a complete disaster, with piles of books and paper everywhere, along with old dirty cups of coffee and dried out pens.

Prompted by the sound of Rafael clearing his throat as he sat on his chair, Sonny opened his case and took out a copy of his resumé, placing it with a flourish on the desk in front of him.

“My name is Dominick Carisi, Jr., but please, call me Sonny,” he smiled. “I’m very interested in this position, sir. I think it would be a great opportunity for me to grow,” Sonny reached inside his briefcase again to pull out a few of his published articles. “Here, I have -.”

“Do you read Runway?,” Rafael asked after quickly checking his resumé.

Sonny hung his head. Well, there goes his chance. “No.”

“And before today, you had never heard of me,” Rafael pointed out, his tone neutral.

“No,” he said as he felt the heat start creeping up his chest and neck. “But I’m -.”

“And you have no sense of fashion,” he continued, as if Sonny hadn’t said anything.

“Well, I think that’s relative -,” Sonny started, looking down on himself. Those were his good clothes.

“No, no,” Rafael interrupted, leaning back on his chair with an amused look. “That wasn’t a question.”

Sonny was stunned, but he shook his head and continued. “Well, I was the editor of the culture section at the Daily Staten Island Journal for four years and I won a national competition for college students on my -”

“That’s all,” Rafael dismissed him and picked up the paper sitting in front of him.

Sonny almost left. He almost made a snide remark and turned on his heels. But of all things, Sonny wasn’t a quitter and he wasn’t a coward, so he took a step forward, squared up his shoulders, lifted his chin and said, “You’re right. I don’t fit in here. I’m not a model, I don’t know anything about fashion, my clothes couldn’t be any cheaper, but I’m smart. And I’m passionate. I’m a very hard worker, I learn fast, and I’m a professional through and through. I can guarantee you I will not disappoint you. Just give me a chance.”

Rafael seemed to be considering his words for a while. He locked eyes with Sonny and didn’t blink for what seemed like forever. And the longer he stared, the more Sonny felt like maybe he got the job. So Sonny made sure to dial up the charm. He put on his soft, almost shy smile that made his dimples show up, and held his head at an angle that made his eyes look a little bigger.

As a reporter, he learned to use his features to his advantage. Sometimes if a source was having a hard time loosening their tongue, he’d flash his blue eyes and dimples at them and he could literally see their body language softening. Being your typical boy next door had its perks, and Sonny made sure to use them.

Rafael’s expression was still neutral if not by the hand on his chin and the slightly narrowed eyes. Sonny knew Rafael was reading him, and he hoped he was able to show just how actually interested he was.

Sonny was about to take a step closer and show Rafael some of his clippings when the moment was broken by a tall, brunette woman walking into the room in quick strides.

“I’ve got the exclusive Dior for Beyoncé. But the problem is the hairpiece they sent to go with it,” she started, not sparing Sonny a glance, dropping pictures on Rafael’s desk. “It looks like something out of a distasteful Disney movie.”

“Uhm,” Rafael agreed, turning towards the woman.

“Thank you for your time,” Sonny said and, with a defeated wave, turned to leave.

“Carmen,” he heard Rafael call. “Show Dominick to his desk.”

Sonny turned back to look at him, his eyes wide. “Seriously?”

“You start right now,” Rafael told him, held his gaze for one more second, then turned his attention back to the brunette woman again.

“Come on,” Carmen stage-whispered just from outside the door. “Okay, listen, we have no time to waste. First things first, you need to become acquainted with Runway,” she said, pointing at a pile of six editions of the magazine she collected and placed at his desk. “Take these home and read them tonight.”

“Who needs sleep, right?,” he joked. Carmen only side-eyed him again.

“The woman you just saw walk into the office is Olivia Benson, she’s the creative director. She’s basically Rafael’s right arm, they work closely together for every edition. But still, Rafael calls the shots,” she explained quickly, then looked at him suspiciously. “You had really never heard of him before?”

“Uh, no,” Sonny scratched the back of his neck sheepishly. “But I gathered he’s the boss around here.”

“He’s the editor in chief of Runway, for one,” Carmen said proudly. “Not to mention a legend. And you’ll soon realize he’s very particular and methodic about his work, which is why you always have to be ready. If anything goes even a little bit wrong, we get set back in weeks, and that costs the magazine hundreds of dollars.”

Carmen walked around her desk and pointed at the phone. “This has to be answered every single time it rings. If I’m not on my desk, you cannot leave, no matter what. When calls go to voicemail Rafael gets very irritated.”

“What if I need to go to the bathroom?”

Carmen closed in on him so fast he almost tripped back. “One time, a girl left her desk to go to the bathroom and Rafael missed a call with Marc Jacobs before he got on a 17-hour flight. That girl now works at McDonald’s.”

“Okay, got it,” Sonny nodded urgently. “Never leave the desk.”

“Rafael is great to work with. Once you get the hang of it, he’s actually incredibly manageable. But a lot of pressure goes with his job, so he’s often on edge because things just have to go smoothly,” Carmen said with a sympathetic tone. “You’ll learn a lot from him.”

“I sure hope so,” Sonny said enthusiastically.

Carmen smiled softly. “Our jobs are very different. You get the coffee and run errands, I’m in charge of his schedule, appointments and expenses.”

“Sounds important.”

“I hope you’re planning on taking this seriously, Dominick,” she said, a challenge in her eyes as she crossed her arms over her chest.

“Of course!,” Sonny was nothing if not a professional.

But what he did not expect was to be woken up at 5:30am by Carmen spewing about this or that piece that had been pushed up or pulled back, telling him to come to the office immediately with Rafael’s coffee orders in hand.

Sonny had stayed up late reading the Runway editions Carmen pushed on him, and it was surprisingly interesting. Sonny had the idea that a fashion magazine would be probably lacking on the social side of things, but he was wrong. Just as there was a top 5 of winter accessories, there was a large spread about immigrants breaking through the New York fashion industry.

Arielle wasn’t impressed by his interest, but was happy he finally got a paying job.

So, between his very little sleep and Carmen calling every half an hour, it wasn’t his fault that he accidentally picked up his worst sweater and jeans out of the dryer as he ran around the apartment gathering his things to leave. The sweater wasn’t new, and it was an odd shade of green. The jeans were even older, but he would rarely wear it, so it looked somewhat decent.

When he finally got to Runway, Carmen was fuming. Rafael had asked about his coffee twice, even though his office was bursting with people running in and out. Apparently they had a fitting.

“Where have you been?,” Carmen practically growled. “You’re late. And what the hell are you wearing?,” she gave him a confused look, but didn’t wait for his reply. “You have to stay here and man the desk. I’m going to the art department to give them the book.”

“The book?,” Sonny asked curiously, dropping Rafael’s coffee at Carmen’s desk before making his way to his.

Carmen sighed, picked up a thick book and opened it in front of him. “This is the book. It’s a mockup of everything in the current issue. We deliver it to Rafael’s apartment every night and he returns it in the morning with all his notes.”

Carmen flickered through a few pages of the book and Sonny was fascinated. It looked like a raw, exclusive version of the finished product, with pictures amateurly glued to the pages and drafts of articles placed on almost empty pages. He could see post-its everywhere with instructions of how to fill the pages, layouts, colors, what should be redone, and what was approved.

“The second assistant is supposed to be in charge of waiting for the book,” Carmen snapped it shut and took it back, hugging the book close to her chest. “But I’m doing it until Rafael is certain you’re not absolutely insane and knows that he can trust you. He’s very reserved about his home.”

Sonny gulped.

“Now, stay put,” Carmen ordered as she picked up Rafael’s coffee and placed it on his desk before leaving with the book.

And much for Sonny’s dismay, as soon as the door closed behind Carmen, the phone started ringing. He looked around quickly, hoping that maybe Carmen was coming back to pick it up. But she wasn’t, so Sonny took a deep breath and answered the phone.

“Hello, Mr. Barba’s office,” he greeted, making sure he sounded inviting.

“Mr. Barba?,” the person on the other side of the line laughed. “Is that his new greeting? I’d think Rafael would despise being greeted in any way that would give away his seniority.”

“Uh,” Sonny blinked. “I mean. Rafael Barba’s office.”

“Better,” the woman teased. “This is Rita Calhoun. Is Rafael available?”

“He’s in a meeting,” he said and reached for a small notepad. “Can I take a message?”

“Yeah, tell him Dolce & Gabbana’s new pieces are ready for him to see then have Carmen call me so I can schedule it.”

“Of course. Could you please spell ‘Gabbana’?,” he asked and then heard Rita laughing maniacally.

“Oh kid, you’re in for a treat,” she said and hung up.

Sonny threw his head back as he heard the dial tone, sighing dramatically. This definitely wasn’t as easy as he thought it would be.

He was on his third day working for Rafael when Olivia approached his desk holding a shoe box with a sympathetic smile. She dropped it on Sonny’s desk and waited patiently for him to open it. It was a simple but elegant pair of black suede oxfords. The box had the Dior logo on it. Sonny snorted and pushed it away from him.

“I don’t need these,” he said confidently. Olivia raised an eyebrow at him. “I mean, thank you. But Rafael hired me. He knows what I look like.”

Olivia smiled again. “Do you ?”

“Well, I’m not looking to change myself just to sit behind this desk,” Sonny shrugged. He knew the job was a great opportunity, but he was getting pretty tired of just sitting around if not for the random coffee run. And he definitely did not need expensive shoes to do that. “And I’m sure these are very expensive.”

“I don’t need them,” Olivia pushed the box towards Sonny again, a challenge in her eyes.

“Okay,” Sonny closed the lid and dropped the box by his feet. “Thanks.”

“Dominick,” Rafael called from his office.

Sonny jumped up in a flash, gathering his notepad and a pen and walking around his desk and into the office in quick strides. He had learned quickly that Rafael did not like to be kept waiting, so the faster Sonny walked into his office, the less bite there was to his demands. Thankfully, Sonny had long legs.

“Please, call me Sonny,” was the first thing out of his mouth when Rafael turned to him. Sonny wished the ground would swallow him whole. “I mean, everybody does,” he tried to justify it with a lame shrug.

Rafael narrowed his eyes slightly. “I need 15 skirts from Calvin Klein.”

“Right,” Sonny jotted the name on his pad. “What kind of skirts?”

Rafael’s reply was a roll of his eyes. “And make sure we have Pier 59 at 8am tomorrow. Remind Olivia I need her feedback on the satchels Marc is doing in the pony. Did Demarchelier confirm?”

Sonny’s hand wasn’t fast enough to keep up with Rafael’s train of thought. At the question, he looked up. Dema-who? “Demarch-?”

“Demarchelier,” Rafael repeated, annoyed. “Get him on the phone.”

“Oh,” Sonny blinked. “Okay.”

“And Dominick,” Rafael took one step closer to him.

Ever so, so slowly, Rafael ran his eyes from Sonny’s beat-up shoes up to his messy hair, squinting slightly, a contained expression on his face. Sonny had never felt so small, his cheeks burning and his hands sweating. Rafael’s gaze was unforgiving, and it told him everything he was doing wrong.

When their eyes locked again, Rafael pressed his lips into a thin line. “That’s all.”

Sonny almost ran out of the room. He was grateful to see Carmen was back at her desk.

“He,” Sonny shook himself. “He needs to talk to Demarchelier.”

As Carmen made the call, Sonny ran back to his desk and grabbed the oxfords Olivia had brought him, putting them on without thinking about it too much.

“I’ve got Patrick!,” Carmen announced, loud enough for Rafael to hear.

“Who is he?,” Sonny asked, standing up and testing his new shoes. They were surprisingly comfortable.

“He’s Runway’s go-to photographer,” she said. “Most of our covers are by him.”

“Right,” Sonny nodded and made a mental note to look up some of his work. “He also asked me about Pier 59, and Olivia, a guy named Marc and pony satchels, and he needs skirts from Calvin Klein.”

“What kind of skirts?,” Carmen asked, typing something quickly on her computer.

“He didn’t say. I tried to ask, but -,” he stopped at the sharp look Carmen threw him.

“Don’t ask him anything,” she said in a grave tone. “It’s a waste of time. I will deal with everything, and you have to go to Calvin Klein.”

Turns out Calvin Klein was a very expensive designer-brand that actually had a lot of skirts. Much like Sonny imagined, the store clerk did not look happy when he said he did not know what kind of skirts Rafael needed. And of course, just as he seemed to have put together a good selection of various skirts, hoping a least a couple of them were the type Rafael actually wanted, Carmen called.

“Don’t come back yet,” she said. “You need to go to Hermés and pick up 25 scarves Rafael ordered. Then stop at Starbucks and get his regular order. Extra hot,” and hung up.

“Not easy being Rafael’s errand boy, is it?,” the clerk asked with an amused smile.

“Well, there’s a reason he’s the boss, right?,” Sonny shrugged and picked up the skirts, throwing half the bags over his shoulder. “Thanks. Have a nice day!”

When he got back to Elias-Clarke, Sonny was drowning in bags of clothing and coffee, but he was happy he accomplished everything in a timely manner and got back to the office before Rafael. He even had the time to stop by his favorite Italian bakery to get something different for him. Yeah, he was trying to win points with Rafael. Carmen, however, was not happy.

“Oh my god,” she squealed. “Where have you been? I have to pee!”

“What? You haven’t been to the bathroom this whole time?,” he asked, sounded horrified. “I’ve been gone for hours!”

“I can’t leave the desk, can I?!,” Carmen bit back. “I’m going on my lunch break, you can go after me.”

Sonny watched, amused, as Carmen all but ran out of the office. He placed the skirts next to the clothes rack by the door, and left the box of scarves on the floor by Carmen’s desk. However, he waited for Rafael to get back before giving him his coffee. He had a surprise, and he prayed to God it wouldn’t backfire.

He had never had an actual conversation with Rafael, of course, but he heard a lot of things. He knew his boss was from the Bronx, born from Cuban parents, and that he graduated from Harvard at the top of his class. He heard he had made quite the investigative journalist back on his New York Times days, and went from there to a reporter on Runway, where he stayed until he made Editor in Chief.

Sonny did a little research and found that Rafael had an impressive track record and was extremely well respected. He found it very admirable. It was impressive to see just how much of himself he gave to Runway. He put in the same passion Sonny dedicated to the article he wrote about the situation at homeless shelters in the winter.

Sonny also heard the gossip about all his past lovers and their complaints about how Rafael actually only loved himself and the magazine.

Well, if Sonny was being honest, if he was half as brilliant as Rafael Barba seemed to be, he’d be in love with himself as well.

When the glass doors opened and Rafael strutted in looking as striking as ever in his suit, Sonny gave him a big smile.

“Good afternoon, Rafael,” he said and reached out for his coat and briefcase. “I hope your lunch was pleasant.”

“Lunch with Rita hardly ever is,” Rafael said with a boring tone as he took off his sunglasses, dropping them on top of Sonny's desk. Sonny picked them up carefully and gently placed them on his drawer. It looked very expensive, much like everything Rafael ever wore.

As Rafael walked into his office, Sonny hung his coat and put his case away before grabbing the coffee cup and the box of dessert he had picked up. He took a deep breath, and followed him with confident steps.

“Hey, I know you have a particular coffee order, but I have a surprise for you,” Sonny placed the coffee cup in front of Rafael. He suddenly looked pissed.

“Did you fall on your head?,” Rafael asked, exasperated. “What gave you the idea to change my coffee order?”

“If you hate it, I invite you to throw it on me,” Sonny said with a nonchalant shrug. Rafael was clearly surprised by his reply and looked up at him with a raised eyebrow. Sonny bit back a grin.

Slowly, Rafael took a sip of his drink. Sonny saw the exact moment he forced himself to keep his expression neutral as he swallowed. He saw the surprised expression before it disappeared. He counted that as a win.

“This is Cuban coffee,” he said, sounding a little incredulous.

“Yeah, I thought you might like it,” Sonny shot him a charming smile and placed the box of desserts on his desk next. “I also got these.”

Rafael took another sip of the coffee and opened the box. His eyebrows shot up, and he looked at Sonny with a displeased expression. “Paris Fashion Week is in four months, I can’t eat this.”

“Ah come on, Rafael. I know you like your snacks,” Sonny wiggled his eyebrows. “Please? I’ll ask your trainer to add in a few extra minutes on the treadmill.”

Rafael sighed and reached for a cannoli. “Okay, but you’re not watching me eat. Get out.”

“Enjoy!,” Sonny sing-songed as he turned to leave with a triumphant smile.

Yeah, it was definitely a win.

And maybe winning was the problem because it made Sonny feel confident. And when you felt too confident in a place that’s far from your comfort zone, the chances of everything going downhill multiplied.

When Olivia gave his lunch and his sweater a disappointed look, he thought nothing of it. It wasn’t important. Rafael liked him anyway. They were in a good place, so why did he need to change the way he dressed?

Well, it started going downhill when he spilled corn chowder on said sweater and Olivia made a fake noise of sympathy. “Don’t worry, I’m sure you can find more where that came from.”

Sonny rolled his eyes and reached for some napkins. “Haha I get it, my clothes are ugly.”

“It’s not even about your clothes. It’s about your attitude,” Olivia replied without missing a beat.

Sonny was taken aback. “Excuse me?”

Before Olivia could elaborate, her phone went off with a text and she looked at him with an alarmed expression after reading it. “Rafael just pulled the run-through half an hour and he’s always 15 minutes early, which means you’re already late,” she said in one breath and turned to leave.

Sonny’s eyes widened. He dropped his tray on the counter and hurried after her.

All the editors were in Rafael’s office when they arrived, and he looked extremely stressed out. He saw the woman he knew was the head of the fashion department going around the room, pulling clothes off the racks, trying to argue in their favor, but Rafael only shook his head and let out long breaths.

“Why is no one ready?,” Rafael asked, his voice strained. “You had hours and hours to prepare. I’ve seen all these before. Where are the new pieces?”

“We have some new dresses from Banana Republic here,” the woman said, pointing at a rack in the back.

“Well, we need more, don’t we?,” Rafael grunted, going through the clothes fast until he pulled out a puffy looking dress. Sonny frowned. “Do you think this works?,” he asked Olivia.

“You know me, give me salon and I’m in,” she smiled. “And I know what you’re thinking. The Dior from June.”

“Exactly,” Rafael looped the dress around the model’s head and examined it for a moment.

“Not with the right accessories,” Olivia said. “We need a belt.”

One of the editors’ assistant seemed to produce two belts out of thin air. She held them up for Rafael and frowned. “Tough call. They’re so different.”

Sonny snorted despite himself. The belts looked insanely similar, and the drama in the girl’s voice was completely unnecessary. But everyone turned to look at him, and Rafael looked very offended. Sonny gulped.

“Something funny?,” he asked dryly.

“I’m sorry,” Sonny stuttered. “It’s just that those belts look exactly the same to me. But you know, I’m new to this. I’m still learning about this stuff.”

By the look on Olivia’s face, that was the wrong thing to say. Sonny unconsciously squared up for the beatdown.

“This stuff ?,” Rafael spat back. “Oh, okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select that faded green sweater because you’re trying to tell the world you take yourself too seriously to care about what you wear.”

Sonny blinked. Well, Rafael was right. But there wasn’t everything there was to it. And Sonny opened his mouth to say so, but his boss wasn’t done.

Rafael shook his head slowly and picked one of the belts the girl was holding up. “What you don’t know is that your sweater is not green, it’s chartreuse,” he pointed out with a glint in his eyes. “And you’re blindly unaware of the fact that in 2014, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of chartreuse gowns, and then Yves Saint Laurent showed chartreuse military jackets. Suddenly, that color made its way into eight different designers. Naturally, it filtered down to the department stores where you found that in some clearance bin.”

Olivia had walked to all the way across the room, where she sat down with a defeated sigh. Looking behind him, he saw Carmen standing by the door with a sympathetic expression, but he knew she wasn’t going to come in to save him. So he waited for Rafael to be done lecturing him.

“You pride yourself in thinking you’re so socially aware but you’re incapable of taking your head out of your ass for long enough to realize that what you’re wearing was chosen for you, by the people standing in this room,” he took a step back from the model. “We need a jacket here,” Rafael said and turned back to Sonny with a predator look on his face. “But on its way to you, that sweater produced millions of dollars, gave people’s jobs, and paid for their living. From the designer to the store clerk in Staten Island. You’re just one little piece in a well-oiled machine. So don’t go around acting all high and mighty. You’re not better than us.”

The room was completely silent. Rafael gave him a long look, then turned away from him, analyzing the final product on the model. He started giving the other people in the room other pointers, making new demands, but Sonny couldn’t hear it. His ears were buzzing and his heart was pounding.

Without thinking about it, he turned around and left the room. He heard Carmen calling his name, but he didn’t stop. Sonny rushed out of the building without even noticing, and he stopped on the sidewalk to take a deep breath.

The embarrassment was almost too much for him to bear. Sonny was an award-winning journalist, he had worked under stressful situations before, but he had never felt so out of place. He had never felt like he knew so little about the world. He had never been called out like that.

Maybe he had been living in a bubble where none of this had ever mattered. And although he knew this was temporary, he clearly still had a lot of bridges to cross. It was his first week, but he still wanted to learn, even if it took having to endure Rafael’s cutting words in the process.

He knew he moved from Staten Island to New York City for a reason. Before he left, his mother told him how hard it was to make it there, that he shouldn’t leave his job. But he was going to make it, and at Runway he could climb fast.

So he looked up at the sky, asked for strength and walked back into the building with his blood boiling.